Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Time for Parental Licensing!

After reading a horrific news story in the Arizona Republic, about 22-year old Tabitha Rich, who placed her infant in a tub of boiling hot water because he was "constipated",

I have to renew my call for parental licensing. As I noted first in an essay written more than 30 years ago (directed at poor parenting in Barbados) we simply cannot afford to turn anyone with a working reproductive organ loose to "do their thing" if it means horror and endless heartaches for their kids. No matter what anyone says, parenting is not an inborn "right" but a privilege.

The Rich incident is merely the tip of a mostly unspoken iceberg of parental abuse in this country. In fact, nearly 1.2 million kids under 16 are abused every year, many of them driven to such desperation that they are rendered homeless. The fortunate few find a secure shelter, often in places such as Covenant House. The not so lucky are left to wander the streets of LA, or Vegas and often become prey to any predator.

What I have always wondered is why do we as a nation, demand people become licensed before they can drive a two-ton vehicle on the open road, yet are totally okay about not licensing them when they have children. "Products" that are far more likely to be permanently damaged by multifold abuse and emotional wreckage, before being turned loose on society in either a dependent or unstable psychological state.

I believe the answer to that is that most people simply assume that every human has the wherewithal or motive equipment to be able to not only have a child but raise it. This is patently false. For example, I recognized from early I'd not want to have any children. I am too selfish in respect of my time, and have very little patience or tolerance for any childish foibles. In other words, if I did have children, they'd likely have suffered emotionally or otherwise from my anti-parential instincts and nature.

This was brought home forcefully to me some 20 years ago when my wife and I (for some insane reason) opted to allow a young teen girl - sponsored by the AFS, or American Field Service - live with us in Barbados after she'd been ousted by two other families. We listened to her sob stories of "mistreatment" at the other families' hands, and decided that we wouldn't be like them, but would "give the kid a break". After all, it was either us, or she'd have to go back to Missouri.

Within a week we regretted our decision. She was a n'er do well who even kept our niece (then also living with us at the time) from her studies at the Community College. Because my niece had barely passed physics the year before, I volunteered to tutor her to increase her exam %, which would allow her to apply later for higher level jobs (which required more certificates, at higher grade level). The tutoring meant weekly physics labs conducted in our living room, which usually lasted 3 hours each. They were generally scheduled from 9-12 in the morning.

No sooner had my niece begun the labs, than our AFS visitor usually tried to distract her. After any given lab, our niece was challenged as to why she'd "put up with my crap". Not understanding or appreciating I wasn't in this for my health or because I especially loved to organize physics labs on Saturdays (when I had my own college prep to do!).

By a month after her arrival, I had even ceased to speak to her, merely passing her in the hallway without comment. Fortunately, by May of that year she was gone, and we could be in peace again - and my niece could settle back into her own study equilibrium.

What would parental licensing entail? We know how drivers' tests are administered- with a written and practical part- but what about parental licensing?

I envision again two parts, written and practical. The first would have questions like:

"You are awakened by your infant crying loudly at two in the morning, what do you do?"


"Your tw0-year old child throws a fit in the supermarket because you won't buy a large Hershey bar for her. She screams nonstop. What do you do?"


"When your 16 year old daughter comes home from school one day, she informs you she's three onths pregnant. What is your response, what do you do?"

The advantage is that ALL of the above are plausible, real world scenarios. All demand an appropriate parental response and there are very limited gray areas.

If, for the 2-year old tantrum, the response is:

"I would punch the child in the back of the head"

Clearly this is cause not to allow any license to be given. In the case of parenting skill or behavior, there must be a very low threshold for accepting the wrong response!

In terms of practical test, various simulated situations could be organized and the prospective parent put into them, like:

Being inside a room doubling as a doctor's office when a simulated kid (or kid actor) pitches a fit and stomps feet, screams bloody murder.

Another ideal test is to use the simulated infant (now very popular in some schools that teach child care) and which even poops, wets itself and cries. Dump this simulated infant on an unsuspecting couple up for the exam, and monitor their responses. If one, or the other, takes the "infant" and thrashes it up and down with head banging on the floor (and we may be keeping them in the room for at least an hour to elicit a reaction) we pretty well can infer they aren't parental material. Let them buy a dog.

Obviously, such testing would be very time and resource intensive, and this might well be one major reason not to do it because it is "too expensive". But that's also the oft cited response to do nothing for many other problems - from repairing our crumbling infrastructure (roads, bridges, water mains etc), to health care and lack of affordable insurance, to allowing seniors with disabilities to live in their own homes rather than be warehoused as semi-vegetables in nursing homes.

In other words, at some point we have to cease using the "too expensive" opt out.

Maybe if we launched fewer wars of choice, we might be able to afford to do the things necessary for citizen welfare, and child welfare. Maybe if we halted the 'Pax Americana' - trying to be the policemen of the world, we'd be able to more carefully tend to our own plot of planet, and our own people.

Just an idea.

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